And she was on the defensive in that first line of her opening statement. She agreed there were systemic failures in how a contract was handled, but questioned “the aggressive action of this committee when the chairman has been reluctant to act in other areas.”
“I think Eddie Bernice still has to say this was wrong, but let’s not trash the whole weather service because you can’t take a group of x-thousand people, and say, ‘You’re all bad people’ because some manager made a bad decision about hiring somebody,” Beyer said. “I think the polarity of the world, the yin and the yang, she’s got to be the yang to Chairman Smith’s yin most of the time.”
Johnson has been on the committee for just over two decades and began her tenure as ranking member in 2011. But her professional life began in nursing; she started her career as a registered nurse in 1955 and later, was the chief psychiatric nurse at Dallas’s VA hospital.
Ask her if she’s always had an interest in science, space, and technology, and she’ll point to her fascination with change as a child. “Science fiction, when I was a kid, is now reality and beyond,” Johnson said. “I love improvement. I love seeing things get better or finding an easier way or a better way or a more successful way to achieve.”
She’ll dive into her belief that nothing ever remains static, that humanity needs to innovate and create and change, and that America must continue on that path. “We cannot stop learning,” she said, “because if we do, the nation's at a standstill.”
Asked what recent bills or hearings she was most proud of, Johnson initially called this the “most frustrating experience I've had in the 22 years I've been on the committee.”
But later in the interview, Johnson pointed to a NASA reauthorization that passed the committee on a bipartisan voice vote in April 2014, a final product that Johnson endorsed. And Democrats and Republicans joined to create legislation both could support. An essentially identical bill funding NASA for 2015 passed the House under suspension of the rules in February.
But what was produced to reauthorize NASA for 2016 was a bill that the minority couldn’t support, partially because it cut Earth-science funding (which included dollars for climate science) by more than $320 million. It passed the committee in a party-line vote, and Johnson’s statement blasted what she saw as the majority’s “willingness to walk away from bipartisanship in order to appease their own most ideologically driven Members.”
Smith, the chairman said that, "There are a dozen other agencies who are engaged in climate research. There's only one agency involved with space exploration, and that's NASA. So let's keep NASA a space exploration agency; let the other agencies do the research on climate change."
As for the committee's bipartisanship? "We’re trying to make an effort to have [as much] bipartisan legislation as possible. There are going to be some areas where we simply are going to disagree philosophically or disagree on the level of money—for instance, in the case of NASA—and we’re not going to get the bipartisan bills that we would like.”